Louisiana Head Baseball Coach Tony Robichaux on how he became a Ragin' Cajun, what his goals are, how he tries to teach his players that sports is secondary, and why community is so important.

Tell us about yourself.

I was born and grew up in Crowley, actually about 8 miles out toward Kaplan, out in the country. My Dad's Dad was a butcher, he owned Robichaux & Sons Meat Market. The slaughterhouse was out there in the country, and the meat market was in town.

I grew up there with four brothers, went through St. Michael's, and graduated from Notre Dame High School. From there, I went to Wharton City JC in Texas, near El Campo, where I pitched. My twin brother went with me, we played together in high school, junior college, and we had another year of American Legion baseball.

The baseball coach at McNeese came out to WCJC, and signed both of us our sophomore year. We stayed at McNeese two years, then my brother came home, went to trade school, and worked at C.H. Fenstermaker for a while. Now he's the Recreation Director in Crowley.

While I was at McNeese, Mel Didier and Brad Kelley recruited me. So I left MSU and came to UL. At that point, UL was leaving the Southland Conference and going independent, so I was red-shirted my senior year here. During that red-shirt, because I was older they let me coach the J.V. team, which you had back in those days. Then Mel left for the Dodgers, and Brad became Head Coach, so I played one year here at UL.

After that, I was working at Champs in Lafayette. I got an invitation to coach American Legion baseball in Crowley, and we made the playoffs in Lake Charles. The MSU coach, Triny Rivera, invited me back to coach pitchers. So I graduated from MSU.

That summer, in 1987, I coached in the Valley League, an NCAA-sanctioned collegiate summer league. It's a way for players to get some experience during the break, but they have rules for keeping them from being extensions of the college team; for instance, you can only have four guys from any one school on any team. Our guys go all over the country. I coached with the New Market Rebels, in New Market, West Virginia.

About that time, McNeese changed Athletic Directors, and Ted Brevelle replaced Ernie Duplechin. I got a phone call, Ted wanted to know if I wanted to come back and replace Rivera, who had left.

So I came back in 1988. My first year we won the conference championship, and made it to the NCAAs in Stillwater, the first post-season appearance in the history of the school. From there we started building a program at McNeese.

Along the way, UL called. Being from here, and because I had played here, my wife Colleen and I were interested. We got an interview, and we understood that the team would be on probation, minus a scholarship, but not for long.

My wife and I knew that the University was a proud place, and that the program wouldn't be down for long. [Then Athletic Director] Nelson Schexnayder called back, said "It's yours if you want it." My wife still had some time left on her contract at Prien Elementary in Lake Charles, and our kids were enrolled there.

UL put me up in the Conference Center, in a dorm room. So I was going back & forth from Lafayette to Lake Charles and Crowley. That went on from October to the Summer, and then we moved back to Crowley. In the interim, I lost a little brother, Jody, the second youngest in the family.

So finally Colleen and the kids came back to Crowley, and we put them in St. Michael's and Notre Dame. Then things calmed down, which made things easier for me. And it was an easy transition for the kids, they were coming back home.

We started building the program, and 4 years later we won the conference, 5 years after that we made the CWS.

When you came to UL, the baseball team progressed rapidly in a straight line: each year you won more games and went deeper into the postseason. Then after the Cajuns made it to the College World Series, the performance has been erratic. What happened?

Well, after the CWS appearance, we lost 7 players to the draft. Then we lost Wade Simoneaux to Louisiana Tech. So there was a big transition.

At the same time, the NCAA expanded the tournament field from 48 to 64, and more teams began investing heavily in baseball. For instance, we just visited Nebraska and LSU, and they're both spending $36 million on new stadiums. So there are more people in the game, and the competition has improved.

Who were the people you look to as role models?

I had several mentors. Mel Didier introduced me to the professional side of baseball. He made us polish our shoes for trips. If he gave you your lunch money and you didn't say "Thank you," he took it back. And he taught us that if you're 5 minutes early, you're late.

Brad Kelley was a strong pitching coach, and he taught me a lot about pitching. And I learned a lot from Triny, too.

Except for a year at McNeese, you were never really an assistant coach. Talk about that.

I wonder if I missed something, having gone straight to being a head coach. But I read a lot, and I study successful coaches. They say that "Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers."

So what did that experience, of being a head coach from the beginning, produce in you?

It gave me a lot of control over motivating somebody, in making them believe in themselves, in structuring them, in leading them down the right path. I had an opportunity to lead.

So how do you think your coaching might be different if you had apprenticed at a major program?

I think maybe it could have shortened the learning curve. I had to figure out a lot of it by myself.

You talk a lot about excellence, but there is a tension between winning and excellence. People don't learn a lot about themselves when they're winning. Tell us about that.

You can win anytime, but to me, excellence is a day-in and day-out approach. I don't think you wake up one day and become excellent, but you can wake up any day and win. There is a difference. Excellence is a lot harder, and it's a constant struggle.

This is a game of failure... I take the view that we have never won a game of baseball, we just failed less than our opponents. It's an intriguing game, it's built on failure. You start the season with no guarantees, and you work through the difficulties.

I think there's some honor in that, you're trying to be perfect in an imperfect game. Even in the major leagues, the world champs lose 50-60 games. So were they better players? Or were they just better at coming back, better at overcoming adversity? That's the elusive thing in this game.

The biggest difference in baseball as compared to other sports, the basketball center doesn't shrink at halftime, the 300 pound lineman doesn't get smaller during the game.

But in baseball, size is not the determining factor. It's harder to control your opponent in this game. In baseball, a 5'7" pitcher who can only throw fastballs and curves, can beat you.

And skill isn't as much of a guarantee here as in other sports. If a running back runs a 4.6-40, on a bad day he runs a 4.7. But on a bad day, a pitcher with a 1.0 ERA won't survive 3 innings.

Who do you think are the best college baseball coaches, and why?

Skip Bertman for one, because of his extensive pitching background, and his ability to motivate players. Mel Didier, because of his professionalism. And again, Kelley on the pitching side.

Describe what makes a poor coach.

Poor coaches deal with their players, they handle them. They don't relate to them; the greatest coaches relate to their players. It's like your children. You can't handle them, you can't deal with them, you have to relate to them.

There's an old saying, "He's a players' coach." Bobby Cox is a player's manager.

Another one is, "Don't try to get them to see how much you know, but how much you care." You can't fake care... maybe you can in the short run, but over time, you can't fake it.

That's the most important ingredient, care. You can't write a check with your mouth that your body can't cash. If you say it and don't believe it, people will know.

The day I walk out of coaching, nobody will be able to say that I didn't care. The athletes won't say I didn't care. You don't care about them because they pitch 90, or hit it out of the park. You care about them.

So you're saying that some of your biggest successes aren't your pro players?

Not by any means. When I look at my most successful former players, I ask, "Are they off drugs & alcohol? How's their marriage? How are their kids?" Life's personal & professional challenges are the real game, not baseball.

I tell players that life is like a table, with four legs: athletic, academic, spiritual & social. If we just let them play baseball, we have a one-legged table, one that can't handle burdens.

We don't send out one-legged tables from our program.

Tell us about some players you've influenced.

We had a student who left here. His wife was having a baby, and the umbilical cord was wrapped around its neck. He called back and told me that he understood what we say all the time, that life's challenges are much larger than baseball.

Another player called me crying, because his mother had a stroke. We're preparing them for life, not baseball.

I tell the players all the time, go home and ask your parents how a curve ball helps their marriage. Baseball in itself isn't important, but the lessons in baseball are important in their lives.

I don't think the players understand those messages when we say them. But somewhere down the road, they draw back on what they heard. So I tell coaches not to stop preaching.

You talk about the video-game mentality in today's students. How do you relate to them?

As soon as a kid sees he's going to lose in a video game, he presses the reset button. He can also go on the Internet and find cheat-sheets for games. But 10 years into marriage, once you're struggling in business, there's no reset button, there are no cheat-sheets.

I tell parents, your child's a kite. On a day with no wind, he can't go anywhere. The kite flies highest on the days that are most turbulent. Every parent wants their child to soar, but then they protect them from problems. Too many parents take away the turbulence. And then they wonder why the kite is on the ground on a windy day.

So I tell the kids, I'm not here to make it smooth for them. I make hills. That's how you learn to climb life's mountains.

I kick the crutches out from under them.

You've just played three tough games against tough opponents, on the road (Nebraska and LSU). You were close in all of them.

We almost played 9 innings.. almost 9 innings doesn't win you anything.

We could have won all three ball games, but we made critical errors in each of them. You don't win by fielding the ball when you're up by 10. You have to field it when it counts.

Saturday at Nebraska we started 6 freshmen. I tell them that I don't want to fly with a pilot who has only flown in calm weather. So I'd rather play a tough opponent.

One of the nice things that came out of those three games is that we lost control, we weren't dominated. That's why I like playing that caliber of team, you subject yourself to losing. But you find out where you are.

Everybody in life knows where they want to end up, but nobody wants to know where they are. If you know where you are, then you can plan out your route. In 1999, we should have made the CWS, too. But coming out of the Rice regional, we found out where we were.

So I like to play tough teams. I'd rather do that than go fishing.

And while we were in Nebraska, we showed them the field in Omaha. We showed them where we want to go, what our goal is.

You have gathered a loyal fan base around the baseball program.

We've worked hard to build a community around the team. We don't want to win the championship with only 30 people in the stands.

We want to build atmosphere here. Minor league programs will tell you that they want you to leave the game, and not know whether you won or lost.

It's the same in a lot of things. If you go to a nice restaurant and the food is late, but the atmosphere is great, you don't mind.

You can't copy atmosphere. I have coaches who tell me that they did everything we do here. They put together a cooking club, they built brick walls along the baselines, they played the music and the cheers. But it doesn't work for them.

It works here. It works here because of our community.